Choir Tours

The Choir of St Thomas’ has gone on tour, either in the UK or overseas, every year but one since 1994. Tours provide an opportunity to sing to new audiences in a variety of interesting locations, often in fine historic settings. They offer the chance to visit places of interest in the region.  And of course they are great fun – as well as hard work!

Since 2008, a combined choir of 40 or more Gentlemen, Boys and Girls has taken part in the tour, singing in various combinations. Parents and siblings have also accompanied the choirs on tour, providing assistance and support.

There are lots more photos of our tours in the Photo Gallery.

2016 Cologne 

Friday: It all began bright and early one sunny August morning, when a pack of excited choristers gathered at St. Thomas’  with varied suitcases and backpacks. After folding our robes, we rehearsed thoroughly for our first service, which was to be the very next day. But our “chief”, Rob, wasn’t there - he had terrible back pain and we were afraid he couldn’t make it. However, thankfully, he pulled through and came during the rehearsal, which earned him a big cheer and more than a few sighs of relief. After the rehearsal, we had a picnic and were off to the airport. In no time we had boarded the plane, fighting over the window seats, and were on our way to Cologne. Just under an hour later we left the plane and were hit by a wall of heat - it was 35 degrees! We took a coach to our hostel, where we rushed to dinner. After checking into our rooms and getting ready for bed, I collapsed on the comfortable bed and fell asleep. What a day!

Saturday: I realised that organising a choir of our size was like a military operation. After breakfast we had our first rehearsal in the conference room which was extremely hot. We collected a picnic lunch before getting on the coach to a small village outside Cologne. We had our picnic in the grounds of the Altenberg Dom and ate delicious ice creams. Altenburg Dom is a stunning building both inside and out. However, when we arrived, there was a wedding taking place, so rehearsal commenced outside in the sunshine with Rob, who was still suffering, perched on his shooting stick. We eventually got inside, donned our robes and the mass began.  The acoustics were quite spectacular, and the sound we made was truly amazing! After a lovely meal out, we returned to the hostel.

Sunday:  It was an early wake-up, and I felt a bit groggy at first, but everyone was determined to get through the hectic day ahead. We took a packed lunch from the hotel, and walked to St. Aposteln, which was amazing on the inside. We sang at mass from up on the organ gallery, and our voices echoed, and filled this spectacular building. After that, we walked to Cologne Cathedral, the largest cathedral in Northern Europe, its twin Gothic spires blackened by time rising majestically into the cloudless sky. Here we caught the Noddy Train, then took a cable-car over the Rhine (passing a nudist spa on the way - very German).  After a picnic in the Rhinepark, we sang at mass at St. Pantaleon church, another beautiful church.

Monday: This was our day off.  As a treat we were taken to AQUALAND!  We had a fantastic time swimming and riding the waterslide, some of us even getting stuck in the slides. In the evening we went to a Pizza restaurant, where we serenaded a customer with “Happy Birthday” and sang ‘Ubi Caritas’ to the chefs, earning us a 20% discount – a great night!

Tuesday:  This was the big day. The highlight of the tour was definitely singing in the cathedral. A quick rehearsal outside attracted a large crowd. Walking in, I felt insignificant against the magnitude and beauty of the cathedral. 
For midday prayers, all our pieces were unaccompanied.  The acoustics were beautiful, and it was a real honour to sing there. In the afternoon, we returned to St. Aposteln, where we sang our final concert. The soloists were AMAZING! They blew us away, and reduced some to tears. After that, we returned to the hostel for speeches from head choristers, senior choristers, and Rob, we said our thank yous to Rob and Jeremy for all they had done for the tour and also to the chaperones for looking after us so well, and we said a farewell to Karen. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

Wednesday:  After breakfast, we packed and went on our way to Linz and boarded a river cruise to Bonn. Beautiful scenery, sunny weather and a picnic on board. But the best was yet to come: in Bonn we visited the Haribo shop! Tubes of Haribos as tall as some of the boys, with flavours not seen at home. We then left for the airport and boarded our flight home. Thankfully Rob seemed better, so didn’t spend so much of the journey lying on the floor to realign his back. 

This has been my (William’s) favourite (and last) tour, and I loved it. Everyone did such a good job! Being in this parish choir, and participating in all these fantastic opportunities is wonderful, and reminds us all how lucky we are. It is an experience that no chorister will forget. 

There are lots more photos of this trip to Cologne in the photo gallery.

2014 Prague

One chilly Thursday morning in August, a bleary eyed choir plus chaperones arrived at St Thomas’ to begin the great choir exodus to the Czech Republic. After a sleepy farewell to parents, the choir tour was on the way! Once on the plane we found our seats, and then all scrambled to swap seats so we could talk to our friends. Our next destination after landing at Prague airport was the hotel, where we settled into our rooms, had a rehearsal, our evening meal and then to bed as it had been a long day. 

The second day marked our first concert, and our first journey into the city on the metro with station names we couldn’t pronounce! We arrived and congregated in the square outside St Nicholas’ to get orientated; inside the church we saw the beautiful interior, including a massive crystal chandelier. Unfortunately, lovely though it was, it caused a problem. The chandelier meant that Julian, up in the organ loft, couldn’t see Rob conducting down below, and the monitor wasn’t working either. The solution was for Andrew to go back and forth trying to repeat Rob’s beat for Julian. The church was full and the concert was well received. That night we had a lovely meal in town in a pizzeria.

The third day was one of FUN: the first item on the agenda was a pedalo trip on the River Vltava which ended up as “Adults sit in the back and watch the choristers pedal them around.” It was fun, although I could only just walk afterwards. Then, after a rehearsal, we went to a bobsleigh track, which everyone thought was amazing fun. William Lardner showed his enjoyment at being driven by speed demon Alex Thow, by screaming all the way down. Even some of the Gentlemen choir went down and got a bit competitive about their speeds!

The fourth day was the busiest, with two sung masses. The first was in St Clement’s, a lovely Anglican church where we sang in the organ loft, giving us a stunning view of the church. They put on refreshments for us after the service, including Czech wafer biscuits which were lovely. That evening we also sang mass in the church of St Salvator, which quite literally took my breath away. It was spectacularly decorated, you could hardly move for fantastic statues, paintings, frescos or carvings. There was even a statue on the stairs up to the organ loft which scared some of us. Singing there was an experience that I shall never forget. We were up in the organ loft again, and so yet again we had one of the best views. We were rewarded for our singing with a standing ovation, which was a great honour, since we had sung a mass, rather than a concert!

On our penultimate day we were back at St Salvator, only this time we were singing a concert. The concert was standing room only, and it was a very moving experience as everyone sang so well. As we made our way back to our hotel we stopped to see the Astronomical Clock in the Square; there is also a regular clock on the side of the tower, because I don’t imagine many people can read the Astronomical Clock, which has around seven hands. Back at the hotel, our dinner was followed by speeches, but the best were those by the two head choristers - even if I do say so myself!

The final day was rather sad as we were all having such a great time, and for some of us it was our last outing with the choir. We had a fun day out in Prague Zoo - the biggest in Europe. I have to say it was a little scary in the jungle enclosure, as they had a room where the bats flew free around your head. The flight back was much the same as the way out: there was a reshuffle of seats, and we were back in England before we knew it. When we got back to the church, I said good bye to everyone. I absolutely loved the choir tour and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. I will definitely go back to Prague!    Max Healey (Head Chorister)
There are lots more photos of this trip to Prague in the photo gallery

2013 London & Oxford (non-residential) tour

It was a great experience. On Saturday 24th August we started with a trip to London. and a ferry trip along the Thames to the fabled London Eye!  It was rather unnerving being in a glass ball 135 metres in the air looking down to see Big Ben no bigger than a child’s toy. After that we walked a little along the Thames and saw someone playing the steel drums; he invited us to try to play a scale, and all who attempted succeeded - with some prompting from the professional.  

Soon we arrived at Westminster Cathedral and it took my breath away it was so beautiful!  The mosaics were so intricate you expected them to come to life.  We then rehearsed in the Apse, took a break, and then sang in the 6 o’clock Mass.  The cathedral was packed!  After eating at MacDonald’s we all got on the coach back to Farnham.

The next day we rehearsed at All Saints’ Tilford for our recording.  Our hard work was rewarded by a barbeque afterwards, which involved a massive football match between the boys and the girls, with the men making up numbers.

On Monday we rehearsed some more and did a sound check for the recording, which basically involved singing “Bethlehem Down” 20 times!  It was weird singing carols in the summer sunshine.  Tuesday 27th was the dreaded day of recording, lots of concentration, trying to stand still and keeping quiet when we weren’t singing, not easy for some. But somehow we managed it, and we recorded a total of 9 carols to Rob’s satisfaction.  In the evening we had a lovely dinner at Brasserie Blanc in Farnham, which included speeches and an impromptu rendition of “Happy Birthday” for another table in the restaurant.

On Wednesday, the last day of choir tour, we drove up to Oxford and proceeded to the river for a bit of rowing.  We all rowed except for Ian Bysh who, as a former undergraduate of the place, had to take a punt out on the water!  We then regrouped, surprisingly dry, and ate lunch in the company of geese in the Christ Church meadows.  

There are lots more photos of this tour in the photo gallery

2012 Choir Tour to Normandy

In August 2012, the choir visited Normandy, singing an informal concert in Rouen Cathedral, Mass at Fécamp Abbey, and a concert at Étretat, which received much acclaim in the local press.

This was the first tour under the baton of our new choral director Robert Lewis, and was enjoyed by everyone who took part.


2011 Choir Tour to Belgium

In August 2011, over 40 boys, girls and gentlemen travelled to Belgium for a four-day tour, staying in Ypres.  The first singing event was a Saturday lunchtime concert in Ghent cathedral, followed by singing the morning service at Ypres cathedral on the Sunday, and then a lunchtime concert in Poperinghe the following day. 

The final singing occasion was at the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate in Ypres, which was extremely moving and was also Philip Viveash’s final appearance conducting the choirs of St Thomas-on-The Bourne.  Although the tour was hard work, there was plenty of time for relaxation and sightseeing, which included a tour of the First World War battlefields and cemeteries.

2010 Choir Tour to Hereford Cathedral

In August 2010, some 40 boys, girls and men sang six services over four days in Hereford Cathedral, while the cathedral choir was on holiday.  The services began with the men singing Evensong on the Thursday, followed by men and boys on Friday, and men and girls on Saturday.  On Sunday morning, men and boys sang Eucharist, followed by men and girls singing Matins.  On Sunday afternoon, the combined choir of men, boys and girls joined to sing evensong and were made particularly welcome by the clergy. 

While there was plenty of hard work, there was also time to relax.  This included bowling, swimming and shopping, and an excursion to Ludlow for the men.  The highlight was a 8.5 mile canoe trip on the River Wye – though for some this also counted as hard work!

2009 Choir Tour to Christchurch, Dorset

Over 40 men, boys and girls, accompanied by some 20 parents, spent three days of the August bank holiday weekend in Bournemouth, singing services in the magnificent priory church at nearby Christchurch. The tour was the first with Philip Viveash as Director of Music. The choir worked hard, singing five services over three days, as well as rehearsing thoroughly beforehand. The music spanned five centuries, from Tallis to Rutter. All the hard work paid off in the quality of performance, especially on the Sunday when all 43 voices sang at the Eucharist and Evensong to a full congregation.

As well as hard work, there was time to fit into the packed weekend a mixture of swimming, skittles, mini-golf, a boat trip, visit to the Oceanarium, and some shopping.

2008 Choir Tour to Southwell, Notts

At the end of August, the men’s, boys’ and girls’ choirs visited Southwell Minster for five days, singing Evensong from Monday to Friday. Duties were shared – men and boys sang on Monday and Tuesday, the men and girls on Thursday and Friday, and all sang together on Wednesday. As well as a busy programme of services and rehearsals, there was time for bowling, swimming and shopping, and a visit to the caves under the centre of Nottingham. The accommodation in part of Nottingham Trent University was particularly appreciated by the children.

2007 Men and Girls Tour to Hereford Cathedral

In late August, the men’s and girls’ choirs sang evensong on three days in Hereford Cathedral. Swimming, shopping and a visit to the cinema provided additional entertainment. Accommodation at the National College for the Blind proved very suitable – but a bit of a walk from the cathedral!

2006 Parish Choir Tour to Romsey Abbey

On 30 July, the men and boys visited Romsey Abbey in Hampshire to sing Sunday Eucharist and Evensong. They sang at the main morning Eucharist at 10.00 a.m. and at Choral Evensong at 6.30 p.m. During the day they enjoyed a picnic and there was also time for cricket, football and swimming in between.

2006 Men and Girls Tour to Hereford Cathedral

Team leader Ellie Powell wrote this piece for the parish magazine: "When we first saw the cathedral we all thought, WOW! Are we really singing in this huge building?  It was beautiful! We had a great laugh. When we sang it echoed round the cathedral, it was wonderful.  We stayed in a pretty little Youth Hostel in Leominster (near Hereford). It had comfortable rooms, and a TV room, where we were A LOT! The food was great and we were happy."  

2005 Beverley Minster

At the end of July 2005 the Parish Choir made a successful trip to Beverley, singing the services at the Minster on 24 July and singing a concert at Holy Trinity, Hull (the largest parish church in England!) the night before. We stayed at the excellent Beverley Arms Hotel and made trips to Flamingoland, The Deep, The National Railway Museum, and spent some time on the beach in Bridlington.

2004 Tewkesbury Abbey

2004 saw a trip by the Parish Choir to sing at Tewkesbury Abbey, singing the services on the Sunday and staying at the Royal Hop Pole Hotel. Although a relatively short trip, we managed to fit in a tour of the Abbey, swimming, a trip on the Gloucestershire and Warwickshire Railway, and a visit to the Cotswold Falconry Centre.

2002 Salzburg

The choir enjoyed a wonderful tour to Salzburg.  We stayed in a pretty chalet-style hotel in Hüttau, and sang concerts in the Lutheran church at Berchtesgaden (Germany) and Pfarrkirche St Michael, Mondsee (used for the wedding scene in the film "The Sound Of Music"). Following the concert in St Michael we sang during the Mass and then again in Salzburg Cathedral on the Sunday morning. We were very warmly welcomed and enthusiastically applauded at both services. When not singing we visited the absolutely excellent Berchtesgaden Salt Mines, took the ferry across the Wolfgangsee lake, visited Salzburg and relaxed! 

2001 Christchurch Priory

We stayed in the UK for summer 2001 and sang the 3 services on Sunday 29th July at Christchurch Priory, Dorset. We took a long weekend break from the Friday to the Monday and the boys were able to go on trips to nearby beaches and the New Forest.

2000 Northern France

As with the 1999 tour, a relaxing week was spent in Northern France where we sang concerts in Coutances Cathedral, Villedieu-les-Poêles and in the 10th century church at St Jean-le-Thomas in the town where we were staying and the townspeople of St Jean-le-Thomas filled the small church and were hugely enthusiastic in their support.  There was also time for the beach, shopping, a trip to the very busy Mont St Michel and for some of the gentlemen, golfing or a day trip to Jersey.

1999 Northern France

A week in Northern France with concerts in Coutances Cathedral, the Abbaye de La Lucerne and Villedieu-les-Poêles. Recreational visits were made to Mont St Michel, the Normandy invasion beaches and to the world-famous Bayeux Tapestry.

1998 Wales

A week in Wales with concerts in Machynlleth and Aberystwyth and as part of the Aberystwyth Festival

1997 USA and Bermuda

This was our most exotic tour yet! The USA leg of the tour included services and concerts in St Bartholomew's church and St Patrick's (Roman Catholic) Cathedral in New York city, concerts in Princeton University Chapel and the Old South Church in Boston. Whilst in Bermuda we sang services at the cathedral in Hamilton (the capital) of which Matins was broadcast live on the radio, and also a concert at St Mark's Church in Smiths Parish.

1996 - Exeter Cathedral

We enjoyed a week of singing the services at Exeter Cathedral.

1995 Central France

A week in Central France including well-attended and enthusiatically received concerts at Preuilly sur Claise, the medieval Collégiale St Ours in Loches and at the Abbey de Fleury in St-Benoît-sur-Loire (near Orléans). We were honoured to be allowed to sing an anthem during the service of Vespers given by the monks of the Abbey de Fleury.

1994 Ripon Cathedral

A week of singing the services at Ripon Cathedral. We also enjoyed tours of the nearby ruins of Fountains Abbey and Rievaulx Abbey.